The Debate Over Multicultural Education in America

America has long been called "The Melting Pot" due to the fact

that it is made up of a varied mix of races, cultures, and ethnicities. As more

and more immigrants come to America searching for a better life, the

population naturally becomes more diverse. This has, in turn, spun a great

debate over multiculturalism. Some of the issues under fire are who is

benefiting from the education, and how to present the material in a way so as

to offend the least amount of people. There are many variations on these

themes as will be discussed later in this paper.

In the 1930's several educators called for programs of cultural diversity

that encouraged ethnic and minority students to study their respective

heritages. This is not a simple feat due to the fact that there is much diversity

within individual cultures. A look at a 1990 census shows that the American

population has changed more noticeably in the last ten years than in any other

time in the twentieth century, with one out of every four Americans

identifying themselves as black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or

American Indian (Gould 198). The number of foreign born residents also

reached an all time high of twenty million, easily passing the 1980 record of

fourteen million. Most people, from educators to philosophers, agree that an

important first step in successfully joining multiple cultures is to develop an

understanding of each others background. However, the similarities stop

there. One problem is in defining the term "multiculturalism". When it is

looked at simply as meaning the existence of a culturally integrated society,

many people have no problems. However, when you go beyond that and try

to suggest a different way of arriving at that culturally integrated society,

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what will work. Since

education is at the root of the problem, it might be appropriate to use an

example in that context. Although the debate at Stanford University ran much

deeper than I can hope to touch in this paper, the root of the problem was as

follows: In 1980, Stanford University came up with a program - later known

as the "Stanford-style multicultural curriculum" which aimed to familiarize

students with traditions, philosophy, literature, and history of the West. The

program consisted of 15 required books by writers such as Plato, Aristotle,

Homer, Aquinas, Marx, and Freud. By 1987, a group called the Rainbow

Coalition argued the fact that the books were all written by DWEM's or Dead

White European Males. They felt that this type of teaching denied students

the knowledge of contributions by people of color, women, and other

oppressed groups. In 1987, the faculty voted 39 to 4 to change the

curriculum and do away with the fifteen book requirement and the term

"Western" for the study of at least one non-European culture and proper

attention to be given to the issues of race and gender (Gould 199). This

debate was very important because its publicity provided the grounds for the

argument that America is a pluralistic society and to study only one people

would not accurately portray what really makes up this country.

Proponents of multicultural education argue that it offers students a

balanced appreciation and critique of other cultures as well as our own

(Stotsky 64). While it is common sense that one could not have a true

understanding of a subject by only possessing knowledge of one side of it,

this brings up the fact that there would never be enough time in our current

school year to equally cover the contributions of each individual nationality.

This leaves teachers with two options. The first would be to lengthen the

school year, which is highly unlikely because of the political aspects of the

situation. The other choice is to modify the curriculum to only include what

the instructor (or school) feels are the most important contributions, which

again leaves them open to criticism from groups that feel they are not being

equally treated. A national standard is out of the question because of the fact

that different parts of the country contain certain concentrations of

nationalities. An example of this is the high concentration of Cubans in

Florida or Latinos in the west. Nonetheless, teachers are at the top of the

agenda when it comes to multiculturalism. They can do the most for children

during the early years of learning, when kids are most impressionable. By

engaging students in activities that follow the lines of their multicultural

curriculum, they can open up young minds while making learning fun. in one

first grade classroom, an inventive teacher used the minority students to her

advantage by making them her helpers as she taught the